The Monster Manual.
The classic and defining collection of monsters in the Dungeons & Dragons universe. A treasure trove of stats, rules, and ways to blast the players with lots of dice, and as the Dungeon Master a book of infinite ideas.
Often when I’m designing a dungeon or looking for a unique monster to fill the end of an encounter, a memorable way to end the evening either in glory or defeat I’ll go shopping in the Monster Manual to see what I can find.
Certainly orcs, goblins, and even some of the classic D&D monsters such as Umber Hulks have their place, but what about some of the lesser used monsters. Those that are both a threat, unique, and seldom encountered.
My system is quite simple, and not very complex in such a game of dice, charts, and random events- I flip through the book till a unique monster picture captures my eye. Something not seen before by the party. Something that they can’t tell right away just what it does- dragons are great, but we all know they breathe some sort of stuff, and can throw around spells due to their uniquely draconic blood.
But what about something like a Manticore?
The picture (or description) depending on the version of the Monster Manual is what pulls me in, as I’ll be using it as a base to describe what the players see, and based on that how they might interact with it.
This works especially well in a player group where there might be some more experienced players- they will have seen a bit more of the Monster Manual vs. newer players, but there is still some obscure stuff to mine from it.
So here we have a monster with the body of a horse or lion, the wings of a bat, and the head of a man beard and all. It’s lawful evil but of low intelligence, which doesn’t mean it lacks wisdom, just perhaps thinking in depth.
Besides its base claw attacks, its special attack is launching spikes from a tail to try and impale the players. Lacking magic, or other special attacks such as charm or poison, this is what we are going to build on as the Dungeon Master.
Encountering the monster in its lair is going to give us a role-playing hook, and will tie into our dungeon end of the evening encounter. We are going to want to make use of its ability to fly, and perhaps start off the attack on the ground, and then fly up to a vantage point to start launching the spikes.
But what about some pre-combat tactics?
The MM states that it speaks common and it certainly has the vocal cords and head of a man…
…what about having a little discourse with the party first?
Many DM’s will want to just jump to combat, but I find some monster interaction in setting up the party to be great fun.
With its superior sense of hearing it should be able to know the party is approaching-especially the fighter in full plate.
What if it invited them in to tell them about some other treasure in the dungeon?
Or even if it wanted to “hire” the party?
All so it could get close to the magic-user or other ranged attacker in the party, maul them first, and then fly up to its perch.
As a Dungeon Master you would be surprised at how many players will stop and start talking to the monster as soon as some coin in mentioned.
See you in the game!